Price a Bentley in America at just under a hundred grand and they won’t be able to make enough of ’em.
Price a Volkswagen at almost a hundred grand and no one will touch it, even if the only difference between the two cars is the logo on the grille. That’s the power of branding and a little thing called “perceived value.” Buyers love to feel like they got a deal, and they hate to feel like they got ripped off.
That’s why Volkswagen’s luxurious Phaeton remains a mystery. When it was for sale in the U.S., there was no value proposition. Prices started at close to $70,000 and quickly escalated. No one wanted a $100,000 car that looked like a Passat. It didn’t matter that the car was as luxurious and powerful as a Bentley. No amount of hand-crafted materials or double-stitched premium leather could overcome a poor price-to-brand value equation. Not surprisingly, the car didn’t sell here, and the Phaeton experiment was killed.
But VW wants to try again. With the exact same formula.
The Phaeton shares a platform with the Bentley Continental Flying Spur (I use present tense because the car still exists in other parts of the world). Needless to say, it has the luxury and engineering details to easily compete, and win, against cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7 Series. What it doesn’t have is a name badge that invokes feelings of lust and panache. In the United States, high price and a plebeian brand name is a recipe for failure.
The latest report on the future of the Phaeton, coming to us from Motor Trend, says that Volkswagen plans to replace the current Phaeton with another model and try again in North America. Maybe the company thinks we forgot about the first go and will suddenly be willing to open our bank accounts. Maybe it’s jaded because of the Jetta‘s success. Or maybe VW believes that Americans are simply ready to throw big money at regular brands.
I have no doubt a new Phaeton would be an incredible car. Motor Trend says it would ditch the W12 engine, use forced induction power and, of course, offer hybrid and plug-in models. It still doesn’t make sense, though, and it still would not succeed in the United States. Unless it came with a steeply discounted price or wore a Bentley badge.
Is Volkswagen nuts to even consider bringing the Phaeton back to North America?